Testimony to City Council to Address the Homelessness Crisis

Carol Corden, New Destiny’s Executive Director, presented the following testimony to the New York City Council Committee on General Welfare hearing on HPD’s Coordination with New York City Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services (HRA/DSS) to Address the Homelessness Crisis

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today at this General Welfare Oversight Committee Hearing. My name is Carol Corden and I am the Executive Director of New Destiny Housing, a 23-year old not-for-profit committed to ending the cycle of domestic violence and homelessness by connecting families to safe, permanent housing and services. New Destiny currently operates 7 service-enriched affordable housing projects where at least half of the apartments for domestic violence survivors and their children leaving HRA homeless shelters.

No one doubts the commitment of this Administration to addressing homelessness. In its first four years, Mayor de Blasio has made ending homelessness and improving the existing homeless system priorities. LINC and CityFEPS speak to the Administration’s willingness to commit City resources, in the absence of both State and federal support, to help homeless individuals and families move to permanent housing. And Turning the Tide represents the Administration’s plan for reducing homelessness while improving the existing shelter system. These are just two of many examples that illustrate the Administration’s concern about and focus on the homeless problem.

Moreover, the underlying causes of homelessness—growing income inequality in our society, the shift to low-paid service jobs, the lack of truly affordable housing in the market, and racism—are difficult for any Mayor to address.

However, New York State remains the center of family homelessness in the U.S. with almost 25% of the nation’s homeless families. Most of those homeless families live in New York City. Almost 70% of shelter users are families with children. If we look at all of the City’s homeless systems, 25,000 plus children are currently living in some form of shelter.

In the largest homeless system which is operated by DHS, the average length of stay for families in shelters, cluster sites, and hotels now exceeds one year. No one believes that young children should spend such a long portion of their short lives in such circumstances.

So, we need to ask ourselves: Are we as a City doing enough to mitigate the worst effects of homelessness, especially for those 25,000 plus children who are impacted? And how can improved coordination between HRA and New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) help to achieve this?

New Destiny suggests four ways that improved coordination between HRA, the agency responsible for responding to the homeless crisis, and HPD, the agency responsible for implementing the Mayor’s affordable housing plan, could help to reduce family homelessness:

  • Provide the HRA specialized domestic violence system with a proportional share of HPD homeless housing resources
  • Increase the number of units for homeless families in HPD-funded preservation and new construction projects and
  • Strengthen post-shelter services for developers serving homeless families
  • Streamline the processing of rental subsidy programs and prioritize applications for homeless families with children
1. PROPORTIONAL SHARE OF HPD HOMELESS RESOURCES FOR THE HRA DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SHELTER SYSTEM

Because New Destiny serves domestic violence survivors coming from the specialized HRA homeless system, we have long been aware of the limited access residents of that system have to the City’s homeless housing resources.

HPD’s Administrative Plan states that homeless shelter residents from systems besides DHS shelter are eligible for HPD’s homeless housing resources. In actual practice, however, the City’s largest shelter system, operated by DHS, has almost exclusive access to HPD’s homeless resources – housing subsidies and homeless set-aside units.

This dominance has particular relevance for the City’s second largest homeless shelter system – the domestic violence emergency and transitional shelter system operated by HRA. In the course of a year, the domestic violence system serves between 9,000 and 11,000 adults and children, most of them families. In the 2016 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Point In Time Count, domestic violence victims were tied for third place as the largest homeless subpopulation. But, despite the size of this population, its share of HPD resources is far from proportional.

Moreover, when resources are offered to the HRA domestic violence shelter system, they are not made available in a predictable or reliable way over the course of a fiscal year, making it difficult to plan or to rationally distribute and target resources.

The trauma of domestic violence and homelessness can have long term impacts on victims that increase their likelihood of future victimization, hamper their ability to perform daily activities, and increase the use of multiple systems (e.g. emergency rooms and hospitals, police and the criminal justice system, homeless shelters, and child welfare officials). The HRA domestic violence system should have a proportional share of the homeless resources held by HPD and the likely size of that share should be shared with HRA at the beginning of the fiscal year to facilitate planning and better targeting of resources.

2. MORE PERMANENT HOUSING FOR HOMELESS FAMILIES

HPD has always set aside some units for homeless individuals and families—largely through minimum set-asides in HPD-funded preserved and newly constructed housing and its Supportive Housing Loan Program. Mayor de Blasio’s recently announced plan to develop or preserve an additional 100,000 units of affordable housing will bring the number of units produced up to 300,000. As part of the plan’s retooling, HPD has increased significantly the number of units for low-income households.

However, the number of units for homeless individuals and families could decline in number as a result of the Administration’s attempt to provide more units—up to 25% of the total units produced—for extremely low and very low income households who are at risk of homelessness but not yet using shelter. This is a worthy goal—preventing individuals and families from becoming homeless—but it does not address the needs of those who are currently homeless.

The main HPD program addressing homelessness is the Supportive Housing Loan Program. While it has provided funding for homeless families, its main focus has been and remains homeless individuals—individuals who benefit from permanent housing with support services. Homeless families, by contrast, have been served through the set-asides required by the programs intended for use by developers creating affordable housing without on-site services.

Most of the new program sheets recently developed by HPD reduce the percentage of apartments set aside for the homeless to a minimum of 10% while increasing the number of low income households from the general population to be served. Although there is a modest financial incentive to house more homeless households, it is not sufficient—given the lack of support services—to overcome the reluctance of many for-profit developers to serve more than the required minimum.

HPD’s response to the large and growing number of homeless families and individuals in shelter is disappointing. We would urge HPD and the Administration to respond more aggressively to the homeless crisis – and particularly the plight of homeless families with children—by further shifting the targeted income goals to include more housing for homeless families. This can only be done, we understand, by increasing the subsidy for extremely low income families—thus reducing the number of units that can be produced.

3. STRENGTHEN POST-SHELTER SERVICES TO PROMOTE HOUSING STABILITY

One of the for-profit development community’s concern about housing homeless families in HPD-funded preservation and new construction projects is the concern that the families housed require services that they are not equipped to provide. Previously homeless families may have never lived on their own, do not understand the requirements of their subsidies, and are often dealing with other pressures and problems. The many issues faced by formerly homeless individuals and families can lead to housing instability if there are no on-site services or access to services. Landlords meanwhile lose rent and must pay for legal costs.

As part of the revision of its term sheets, HPD has sought to address this issue by requiring that developers using Our Space funding to capitalize a “social service reserve” in projects with homeless set-asides. However, many housing developers do not know how to identify and link with social service providers.

To facilitate the matching of appropriate service providers to HPD-funded projects containing homeless units, HPD and HRA should issue a RFQ for nonprofit service providers interested in offering services to homeless families at permanent housing and create a list of qualified providers with their expertise and experience. HRA and HPD could work together to match qualified service providers with HPD-funded projects containing homeless set-asides. The service provider would determine the level and duration of services to be provided depending upon the presenting needs of the homeless families to be housed.

Cooperation between HRA and HPD in identifying and supporting potential service providers for projects with homeless set-asides could help incentivize more for-profit developers to include a larger percentage of homeless families in their projects.

4. STREAMLINE PROCESSING OF RENTAL SUBSIDY PROGRAMS AND PRIORITIZE THE APPLICATIONS OF HOMELESS FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN

The six LINC subsidies, in addition, to FHEPS, Section 8, and other rental subsidy programs for special needs populations, are administered by different agencies and governed by the requirements of different funding sources. The array of subsidies and their differing requirements can be confusing, for recipients and landlords alike.

HRA and HPD, two of the main agencies administering NYC rental subsidies, should align their requirements and procedures, making them more transparent to recipients and more user-friendly to landlords by:

1) Using cross-systems information about homeless families in the shelter databases to target available subsidies and/or homeless resources (e.g., NYCHA public housing units and HPD homeless set-aside units) more appropriately.

Cross-agency cooperation and data-sharing between HRA and HPD, or the centralization of homeless housing resources, as is anticipated under the Coordinated Assessment and Placement System (CAPS) that is being developed, would help to ensure that homeless families are being assigned the most appropriate subsidy or housing option given the situation of that household.

2) Standardizing HPD and HRA inspection and application standards across rental subsidy programs.

The differing inspection and application requirements as well as rent payment levels are often confusing for landlords and applicants. The rigorous inspection requirements for some programs versus others lengthen the period that units remain vacant and result in rental income losses for housing operators—a frequent cause of frustration with subsidy programs among developers and property managers. Different inspection requirements also create competition among the rental subsidy programs resulting in landlord and developer preferences for some programs over others. Homeless families with certain subsidies may have greater difficulty finding landlords willing to accept their rental vouchers because of concerns about the timing and stringency of the inspection process.

3) Working together to prioritize and fast-track the application review process and the inspection of units intended for homeless families with children.

To the extent possible, HPD and HRA should prioritize the inspection of units intended for homeless families with children with one agency taking the lead for all inspections. The review of rental subsidy applications for homeless applicants should be streamlined to facilitate the movement of families with shelter as quickly as possible from shelter to permanent housing to reduce the negative impact of homelessness particularly on children.

We thank the Council for the opportunity to speak today and welcome any questions you may have.

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